I have posted last Sunday that Hamad Haddadi will butcher Andray Blatche for lunch in Monday’s showdown between Iran and the Philippines. I thought that Blatche’s sprained ankle will hamper him in defending Asia’s best player in recent memory.
I’m really glad that I was wrong. And Blatche’s performance, albeit in a reduced role, was not only full of heart, but of brains as well.
While criticized by some hoops pundits as an overweight center who plays more as a stretch forward, Blatche reaffirmed this awkward identity and his softness was his weapon against the powerful Haddadi.
As Sun Tzu wrote, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”
So instead of engaging in a war of attrition underneath the basket, Blatche, hobbled by an ankle injury from Sunday’s game versus Japan, played the perfect decoy, taking Haddadi to the perimeter even if Blatche had to leave Gilas’ smaller men to gang up for the rebound.
It was a big gamble for head coach Tab Baldwin’s part to have Gilas play such an awkward tactic, considering Iran’s superiority in height. Yet, in the battle of rebounds and blocked shots, the Philippines led Iran, 40-39 and 5-1, respectively. And Blatche only hauled seven boards. One might say that these numbers can only be tallied in an alternate universe, but it just came true in Changsa. And these rebounds and blocked shots were caused by Blatche pulling away Haddadi from the post by playing from the outside.
Another effect of Blatche’s low-key role is that it allowed more actual dribble drives than the same old dribble drive offense that results in lower percentage outside shots. To wit, Gilas converted fifty per cent from two-point range (20/40), and most of our shots from within the arc are layups by the much faster Jayson Castro William and Calvin Abueva. But these layups were made possible by Blatche taking away Haddadi from his comfort zone, instead of banging bodies with him.
The result, the three-time tournament MVP Haddadi finished with only ten points, seven rebounds, and only nine field goal attempts in 27 minutes before fouling out with four minutes left in the game.
Of course, in the upcoming games, the Philippines must always adjust with its tactics considering that teams play differently in the FIBA Asia. But if there’s a bottom line in the Philippines’ slaying of powerhouse Iran, it is that Gilas can play better without depending too much from Blatche. And we can also play with utak (brains) and not necessarily pure puso (heart).
Photo from FIBA